Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ There is No Death ( Chapter 31 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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Note: To get into the proper mindset as I wrote, I remembered how it felt role-playing a similar scene in our 'Legend of the Five Rings' game, called "The Battle of Twilight Honor." (This is the battle referenced in the notes on Chapter 22, "All Things are Possible.") Twilight Honor was one of Nasami's darkest trials (four days of no sleep, non-stop fighting, dwindling supplies, death and dying all around her, having to retreat time and again just to stay alive, forced to abandon her post and her duty of defending the Wall, and THEN she had to kill her own commander).
The title of the chapter comes from a quote from a collection of maxims, quotes, and proverbs we created in our L5R game. The whole quote, which later became our group motto, goes:
"For cowards, there is no life;
For samurai, there is no death."
The music is the phenomenal "The Bridge of Khazad Dum" from Howard Shore's score to LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
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© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-One: There is No Death
Kyuzo and Nasami ran along one of the forest paths, eyes darting back and forth for any signs of advance scouts.
"They won't be up here," Nasami panted. "They'll be down by the cliffs, there's more room to hide down there."
"There or the fields," Kyuzo replied, giving no indication of being out of breath.
The sound of footsteps brought both of them to a halt, and through the mist and rain, the two samurai saw two mounted Mimizuku charging toward them with bows drawn and arrows nocked.
"Okay, so I was wrong," Nasami laughed, drawing her katana and taking up her stance, but Kyuzo's eyes widened as two arrows raced straight toward them, each one carrying a roundish shape just before the arrowhead.
In a flash, he sheathed both of his swords, grabbed the samuraiko, and threw her to the ground, landing on top of her just as the arrows slammed into the trees where they had been standing. Nasami's protests were drowned out by the roar of the explosion as the grenades attached to the arrows detonated, sending a wash of heat and flame over them both. Both samurai were dimly aware of the Mimizuku riding off, and after pausing long enough to make sure more grenades weren't coming their way, they got to their feet.
"Bastards," Nasami spat, wiping mud off her face and shaking her head to stop her ears from ringing. "Those damned things were banned at the end of the war." She immediately turned to Kyuzo, her eyes sweeping over him to make sure he was all right. "Are you-?"
The look in his eyes told her to drop it, so she remained silent, then bowed. "Thank you... Kyuzo-sama."
He nodded slightly. "I'll go after them. You warn the outposts."
"Done. Good hunting."
"And you."
As they reached the edge of the forest, they split up, Kyuzo pursuing the Mimizuku, Nasami heading toward the nearest defense post along the cliffs.
In the center of the village, Kambei, Shichiroji, and Katsushiro studied the map of Kanna Village while assessing how the enemy might attack.
"Coming up the waterfall is basic military strategy," Shichiroji mused.
Katsushiro was skeptical. "Even in this storm?"
Kambei did not take his eyes off the map. "The Nobuseri have learned now what we samurai can do, but they also know that farmers are vulnerable. They'll use any tactic they can to intimidate and break their fighting spirit."
Shichiroji nodded his agreement. "A waterfall's a difficult path for anybody to take... and this downpour'll make it even tougher. But think of the advantages - they can hide in the mist, and their approach won't be heard over the roar of the water. It's the kind of surprise attack that sends farmers screaming."
"But if it's such a basic strategy, won't they expect us to have special defenses for it?"
Kambei smiled slightly. "That's very well said, Katsushiro. You're beginning to reason like a strategist after all." He gestured down at the map, and the younger samurai leaned closer to look at it. "You must put yourself in the enemy's camp. If you were attacking this fortress, what would you do?"
But before Katsushiro could answer, Rikichi came sprinting toward them. "The bandits!" he shouted. "They're here!"
The three samurai looked up just as he arrived, panting and out of breath. "On the western cliff, I saw a Raiden and eight Mimizuku foot soldiers! We've seen ten Mimizuku on the southern path, and twelve more up north, plus three armored Yakan units!"
"That many?" Katsushiro said in dismay and Shichiroji sighed in frustration.
"Those foot soldiers have proven to be tougher than we expected. It looks like we're in for one heck of a battle."
Kambei, however, quietly began notating the enemy's numbers on the map, in order to keep track of who was coming from where, and how to best deploy the farmers and the other samurai. What concerned him and Shichiroji the most was not the numbers; itwas that the Nobuseri had learned that a direct and single approach would do no good - they were now splitting their forces to spread Kanna's defenders along a wider area. Then he glanced up at Rikichi.
"And the Benigumo?" he asked quietly.
"No sign of him yet," Rikichi replied, and Kambei nodded to himself, then he looked over at Katsushiro who was waiting for orders.
"Katsushiro, I want you and Rikichi to make your way back to Gorobei's post and assist him in whatever way you can."
"Right!" Katsushiro bowed slightly, nodded to Rikichi, and the two men turned and dashed off toward the cliffs where Gorobei and his assigned team were posted.
As Nasami sprinted along the path, her eyes were suddenly drawn by movement far below. She paused and leaned forward to peer down into the canyon, and a moment later, she heard the telltale clomping echoing up the canyon, heading for Gorobei's post.
She doubled her pace, trying desperately to outrun them, but there was no way she could hope to do so on foot, especially with two lame knees. A few moments later, however, she reached the rocky outcropping where Gorobei and the farmers were keeping watch. And far below them, she saw one of the Mimizuku nock an arrow.
"GOROBEI, BELOW YOU!" she screamed as loudly as she could over the storm, and she saw the other samurai turn, startled, to look at her, then race toward the fence protecting the cliff just as the arrow and grenade whistled through the air and connected with a thunk. For a horrifying moment, the farmers stared in confusion, but Gorobei immediately recognized it for what it was.
"You've got to be kidding me! GET DOWN!"
He grabbed Gozaku and shoved him down while Nasami dove forward and tackled one of the other peasants, but the rest of the farmers were caught completely by surprise when the grenade exploded, sending shrapnel and fire in every direction while partially collapsing the cliff face and blowing the fence to splinters.
An instant later, Mimizuku began swarming through the breach, but the two samurai were on their feet and began carving them to pieces.
"How did you know?" Gorobei shouted to Nasami over the chaos.
"Two others ambushed Kyuzo and me in the woods," she yelled back, beheading another Mimizuku and shoving his body back off the cliff. "He's gone to try and catch them, but we need to warn Kambei and the others!"
Cursing, Gorobei sliced another bandit in half.
Gozaku shakily got to his feet and pulled another farmer up with him. "You're going to be okay," he whispered, hoping it were true, while the farmer Nasami had saved began dragging other peasants away from the fence.
"Get the wounded out of here!" Gorobei commanded, driving back two more Mimizuku who were trying to take advantage of the sneak attack.
"Gozaku!" Just then, Rikichi and Katsushiro came running up, staring at the scene in horror.
"Hurry, help me move them!" Gozaku urged, and Rikichi leaned down to help other wounded to their feet while Katsushiro approached Gorobei.
"What happened?"
"They bombed us," the older samurai said grimly, watching as Nasami finished off the last of the Mimizuku.
"The bandits still have bombs? That's forbidden! At the end of the Great War, such weapons were banned!"
"Tell that to the bandits," Nasami snapped without turning around.
"I need you to go back and warn the others," Gorobei told Katsushiro.
"Right!" Katsushiro quickly set off, but Gorobei called after him, "And tell any other samurai you find! We have to spread the word, or even more will get killed!"
Katsushiro dashed back into the mist, while Gorobei turned to the others. "Rikichi, Gozaku, tend to the wounded. The rest of you, follow me!"
But as he and the remaining farmers prepared to fight the second group of bandits making their way up the cliff, Gorobei saw that Nasami had frozen in place and was staring down at the ground.
"No," Nasami whispered. "No, no, no..."
"Nasami-dono!" Gorobei called, but the samuraiko was beyond hearing him. Slowly, she leaned down, and touched the fingertips of her right hand to the face of one of the fallen peasants. She tenderly closed his sightless eyes, and bowed her head.
When she lifted her hand, it was red with blood. Moving with excruciating deliberation, she straightened and drew her fingers across her face from left to right, leaving a swathe of red like a mask over her eyes. Gorobei and the peasants recoiled as she turned her face to theirs, her dark blue eyes blazing with cold fire behind the crimson on her face. She looked over her shoulder at the others who had been killed in the sneak attack, then she turned back to Gorobei and the others.
"If it's death they want, then death I shall give them," she hissed.
Then Nasami lifted Mamorimasu in her hand and leveled it at the approaching Nobuseri forces, and she, Gorobei, and the farmers gave a mighty shout and attacked.
All over Kanna, the struggle was going badly. Each of the samurai outposts were bombed, as the Nobuseri achieved the double goals of scattering the samurai and causing unbridled panic in the farmers, and group by group, the peasants found themselves slowly being herded toward the village itself.
Abruptly a Raiden swooped in over a group of houses and opened fire on the farmers, while its patrol of Mimizuku raced after the fleeing peasants to cut them down as they ran. Other Mimizuku sent flaming arrows racing towards the houses, while still others continued bombing building after building until half the village was in flames.
Out of the flames, however, leapt Kyuzo, straight into the midst of a dozen Mimizuku, slicing them into pieces while the farmers fled to safety. He and his swords never stopped moving, leaving a trail of death in his wake.
Mosuke and Manzo shot past him, yelling in panic as a Yakan pursued them, nearly bringing a house down on top of them as they ran. Manzo found himself trapped with his back against a wall as the Yakan approached, and desperately he nocked an arrow into his bow, but his hands shook so badly that his shot went wide. Derisively, the Yakan pulled the arrow from the support beam where it had struck beside him, turned it in his hands and flung it back at Manzo. The farmer shrieked in panic when the arrow landed just beside his head.
"I'm hit! I'm hit! It's an arrow in my head, I'm going to die! I don't want to die!" He buried his face in his hands. "It's not fair! My poor Shino will be an orphan!"
His sobbing was suddenly interrupted by the sight of the Yakan being sliced in half from behind, and he looked up to see Kikuchiyo standing there.
"Quit bellyaching and RUN!"
Then Kikuchiyo whirled around as another Yakan approached, and swung his enormous sword, but to his dismay, the blade shattered against the Yakan shell, so he snatched up a tree and slammed the Yakan straight into the ground. While his back was turned, another Mimizuku took aim with a flaming arrow, but before it could reach the big machine samurai, Gorobei came out of nowhere, snatched the arrow out of the air, and flung it straight back. With a curse, the Mimizuku caught fire and tumbled from the rooftop.
"Showoff," Kikuchiyo muttered, and Gorobei grinned.
Katsushiro staggered, exhausted, toward the center of the village where he had last seen Kambei and Shichiroji. Everywhere he had gone, outposts had been bombed, farmers had been wounded and killed, and absolute chaos reigned. However, he did allow himself a momentary flicker of pride for killing the Raiden, and wished Nasami had been there to see it.
"Katsushiro!" As though he had summoned her by his thoughts, he turned and saw the samuraiko limping toward him.
"Nasami-dono, I'm glad you're..." Then he saw the blood on her face, the filth and grime covering her armor. "What the-?"
"Not now," she said, cutting off his question. "Where are Kambei and Shichiroji?"
"Last I saw, they were still in the center of the village," he replied, both repulsed and fascinated by the mask of blood she wore across her eyes. As exhausted as Nasami appeared, the fierceness in her eyes had the younger samurai convinced she would keep fighting until she dropped in her tracks. "What's wrong?"
"The Benigumo," she answered, pointing with her katana back the way she had come. "I saw the signal flares, so I went to investigate. Syusai and his patrol have started moving. I killed some of them, but he's on his way here and we need to muster our defenses to stop him."
"How much time do we have?"
"We don't," she said shortly. "Come with me - we need to gather the other samurai before he gets here."
But she only got two steps before she nearly collapsed, and only Katsushiro's quick reflexes kept her from landing facedown in the mud. "Nasami-dono!" he said in alarm, catching her as she fell. Glancing down, he was horrified to see several wounds up and down her legs where she was bleeding profusely. Immediately he lowered her to the ground and started tearing strips from his cloak to bind the worst of them.
"Damn it, we don't have time for this," she whispered, her face ashen underneath the mask of blood.
"I just saw Kikuchiyo-dono being dragged off by two Tobito," he told her as he worked. "And Gorobei-dono was just ahead of me, we may still be able to catch up to him. Sensei and Shichiroji-dono are most likely still at the center of the village, keeping an eye on things, so only Kyuzo-dono and Heihachi-dono would have to be found." With that, he tightened the last bandage and pulled the samuraiko to her feet. She swayed slightly, but was at least able to put all of her weight on both legs.
"Thank you, Katsushiro," she murmured. "Now let's go."
As they ran, Katsushiro filled her in on what else had been happening while she had been scouting the enemy - the attacks on the other posts, Rikichi's bravery with the cannon, and then with pride, he told her about how he had defeated a Raiden with a single strike, and even as weary as she was, she managed a smile.
"Good work," she told him, saving as much of her breath for running as she could. "But don't get too overconfident."
Occasionally she would lose her footing and slip, but Katsushiro kept one hand at her elbow to stop her from falling. It felt decidedly strange to him, seeing the samuraiko this wrung out, but he could only imagine how many Mimizuku and Yakan she had taken down to find the Benigumo's position.
Shichiroji and Kambei were surveying the wreckage of Kanna Village when they saw Heihachi approaching, walking with an obvious limp and several lengths of bandage wrapped around his midsection. The two older samurai immediately came running over, and Shichiroji's breath caught when he saw the blood still seeping past the bandage. "That looks pretty serious."
Heihachi looked down, smiled ruefully, lifted his goggles out of the way and winked. "Ah, it's nothing some rice won't cure." Kambei and Shichiroji both smiled in relief - if Heihachi could still joke, it couldn't be too bad.
The woodcutter looked up at the sky. "God, I hate this rain, though, making my moves even sloppier than normal."
"That'll happen," Shichiroji agreed cheerfully.
"Any bandits left?" Heihachi asked quietly, glancing around, and Kambei nodded.
"Only the Benigumo's patrol."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than all three samurai whirled around, hands going to their weapons, for out of the mist they could hear sounds rapidly approaching. "Listen!" Kambei peered toward the mist, then started when he saw two Tobito, dragging a cursing and shouting Kikuchiyo behind them.
"Agh, Kikuchiyo!" Shichiroji said in exasperation, and quickly, all three dove for cover as the Tobito tossed Kikuchiyo forward. The moment he landed, though, shots rang out, and with surprising agility, he vaulted to his feet and dove behind some wreckage out of sight.
"Kambei-sama, is that the Benigumo?" Shichiroji hissed, trying to remember how many bandits were still carrying firearms.
"We'll find out soon enough," Kambei replied, but then his gaze and Shichiroji's was caught by a flash of red as Kyuzo approached and took up a position to one side.
"Good timing," Shichiroji said dryly.
The five samurai held their breath, waiting... and then out of the mist and rain came searchlights.
Syusai and his patrol had arrived.
Kikuchiyo, however, jumped up from behind his rock eagerly and shouted, "Time to finish you off!" Springing down from the rock, he dashed over to one of the burning buildings and grabbed a support beam that was still aflame. The sight of him swinging it stopped the other samurai in their tracks.
"What are you doing?" Heihachi blurted out.
"Had to replace my sword with something, right?" Kikuchiyo called back cheerfully, smashing three Yakan flat with a single blow. With that, the other four samurai charged into the fray, slicing their way through Syusai's escort. Moving much faster than the Yakan could hope to match, Kyuzo, Shichiroji, Kambei and Heihachi quickly made short work of the bandit group, until only Syusai was left.
"Now it's YOUR turn!" Kikuchiyo taunted, the heavy support beam balanced easily on one shoulder. But the minute the words were out of his mouth, Syusai leveled his cannon and blew the support beam clean in half off Kikuchiyo's shoulder, sending him sprawling. As the Benigumo prepared to fire again, a spear embedded itself in the shoulder joint of his arm, and Gorobei, Katsushiro, and Nasami came dashing up to them.
Syusai growled and ripped the spear free, then fired again.
For an instant, time froze, and Gorobei's eyes searched for the shot, focusing all of his attention...
Bringing his katana around with all of his might, Gorobei managed to deflect the shot away, but Syusai fired the second barrel straight toward where Gorobei was staggering off balance, and the explosion blew him off his feet, rolling in the mud.
"Gorobei-dono!" Katsushiro cried, sprinting to the samurai's side, but one look told him that the wound was mortal... and Gorobei knew it. The young samurai glanced desperately up at Nasami, but the samuraiko's only response was a tightening of her jaw and clenched fists. He looked then at Kambei, but the samurai's gaze was fixed on Syusai.
Katsushiro rounded on the bandit defiantly. "You BASTARD!"
"Wait." Kambei's voice was soft but clear. "This is a battle I must fight on my own." Shichiroji nodded in agreement and took a step back to cover Gorobei and Heihachi. Kyuzo, Nasami and Kikuchiyo also took up defensive stances and waited.
For a moment, Kambei paused and looked back over his shoulder at Nasami. His eyes widened momentarily at the sight of her with blood across her eyes, and her gaze met his levelly. Then she nodded slightly to him and looked over at the Benigumo, and he knew that while she was not at all happy about him duelling the enormous bandit, she respected his right to do so.
Kambei slowly advanced forward, coming to a halt in front of Syusai, who still held his cannon levelled straight at him.
"So, we meet again, relic," Syusai rumbled.
"You're the only one left," Kambei said quietly, his voice matter-of-fact, and the huge machine shrugged slightly.
"I figured as much."
"You've already lost. What reason do you have to continue attacking this village?" Kambei's question hung in the air, and the samurai found themselves holding their breath, waiting for the Nobuseri's response. "Do you feel you have something left to prove?"
Syusai said nothing, but Kambei did not look away.
"Is it... because you are samurai?"
"The samurai within me died ages ago!" Syusai growled, throwing his cannon to one side, scattering the peasants that had gathered.
Nasami turned to look at the cannon, back at Syusai, then at the weapon once again. And slowly, she smiled.
For a long time, Kambei and Syusai stared at one another, swords drawn, waiting for the other to make the first move as the rain fell around them. Then with a curse, Syusai lifted his enormous blade and brought it crashing down where Kambei was standing. Swiftly the samurai leapt aside to dodge the blow, even as the ground shook from the force of the strike. Syusai swung again and again, but Kambei continued to elude him, even as buildings came crashing down around him. But the bandit continued to force him back, and soon Kambei found himself with his back to the wall.
Syusai took full advantage of the opportunity, and a smaller version of his cannon extended from his arm and opened fire.
"That dirty little-!" Kikuchiyo shouted, taking a step forward, but before anyone could react, Kyuzo had leapt forward, scaled a nearby house, and sliced off the hand with the machine gun attachment.
"What are you doing?" Kambei called in dismay and anger, and even Kyuzo appeared momentarily startled.
"No one can kill you except for me," he stated, but Kambei glared at him.
"He was never going to."
Now thoroughly incensed, Syusai attacked both samurai, throwing Kambei off balance and sending his sword flying to embed itself point first into the support beam of one of the few houses still standing.
Kambei got to his feet and found himself staring down the length of Syusai's blade, but there was no fear in his eyes.
"Sensei!" Katsushiro cried, making to rise, but Gorobei roused himself enough to stop him.
"No, don't!"
"But Gorobei-dono..." Katsushiro protested, but Gorobei shook his head resolutely, and Katsushiro sat back on his heels once more.
As Syusai drew his sword back to deliver the death blow, Kyuzo made to spring forward once more, when a sudden explosion shook the earth and startled all of them. Syusai rocked and then fell forward to land in the mud. As he fell, Kambei turned and snatched up his sword, then lunged out of the way to avoid the bandit's falling body.
Everyone turned in surprise and saw Rikichi, Gozaku, Mosuke and Yohei standing near Syusai's cannon, which they had lashed to the ground to minimize the recoil.
"Rikichi," Gorobei breathed in amazement, then he saw Nasami standing on Gozaku's other side, a length of rope still in her hand and wearing a smirk.
With one arm slung around Gozaku for support, Rikichi looked over at Nasami. "I wish we'd thought of this the first time!" he laughed aloud, then winced as his broken ribs ached.
"Got him! I can't believe we did it!" Gozaku said, as surprised as the samurai were.
"Serves you right, bandit!" Yohei shouted defiantly from the top of the cannon's barrel.
"YOU!" Syusai shouted and the peasants recoiled fearfully. "YOU WILL REGRET THAT!" He lifted his sword to kill the five of them in one attack, but before he could do so, Kambei was there.
With a single stroke, he beheaded the enormous Nobuseri, then carved straight through his chest on his way back down to the ground, and with agonizing slowness, Syusai's body toppled forward to land in the mud.
Kyuzo came to stand beside Kambei, who turned to look at him. Neither samurai spoke, but then both turned to watch Syusai's body burn, smoke coiling toward the sky.
In the Mikumari's home, Kirara's head came up in horror, her eyes opening wide. "The water's grown cloudy!" Clutching the crystal tightly, she ran out into the rain, leaving Komachi and the others behind.
"What's that mean?" Komachi called after her, but Shino felt a chill down her spine.
"Not sensei..." she prayed silently. "Please, don't let it be sensei..."
All the samurai and many of the peasants were gathered in a small, tight group around Katsushiro, who held Gorobei in his arms as though trying to infuse him with his own life force.
"Gorobei, you can't die like this!" Rikichi pleaded, his voice choking. Not until now did he realize how much he had come to admire the street performer, how much he respected and valued his friendship and cheer.
"You'll have to forgive me, Rikichi... looks like I can't take you to the capital after all," Gorobei said weakly, trying to smile.
"Oh, great samurai." Despair filled the young farmer, even as tears formed in his eyes.
Kambei was utterly still, unable to take his eyes off Gorobei. "Your life," he whispered. "I've stolen it."
As weak as he was, Gorobei managed to summon the strength to look at the samurai he had followed here to the battlefield, the man who had inspired him to once again return to the samurai life and death he'd craved for so long. "You've... got to... be kidding... me..."
Then his eyes drifted closed, and he sank back into Katsushiro's arms. The young samurai leaned forward, unwilling to accept the truth in front of him. "Gorobei-dono!"
"Gorobei!" Kikuchiyo shouted. "Stop playing around, you stupid mule! Come on, open your eyes! This isn't funny!" But all around him, farmers and samurai alike bowed their hands and closed their eyes, saying their own final, silent farewells to the brave samurai. Several of the peasants were in tears, Rikichi among them, when suddenly they became aware of Kirara running toward them.
She came to a horrified halt, her eyes enormous in her face. "We're responsible for this," she gasped, staring at Gorobei lying in Katsushiro's arms, a serene and peaceful expression on his face.
At that, Kambei flinched, but managed to remain silent. Across the group, his eyes came to rest on Nasami where she stood with tears flowing unchecked down her face, washing away the blood she'd marked herself with. Aware of his gaze, she lifted her head to look at him, and ever so slightly, he tilted his head to indicate Rikichi's house. For a moment she looked puzzled, but then nodded. Quietly placing her hand on Rikichi's shoulder as she passed him, the samuraiko walked away.
Without looking at Shichiroji, Kambei murmured softly, "I have to go. Watch over things here."
Shichiroji gave a long, drawn-out sigh, and then at last nodded. "You got it."
Kambei turned to follow Nasami, but Shichiroji stopped him first. "And Nasami?" he asked softly, watching his former commander intently while the others all gathered around Gorobei.
For a long time, the other samurai said nothing, but then walked away without once looking back.
To be continued...