Samurai 7 Fan Fiction ❯ The Sword of the Soul ❯ Never Forget What You Are ( Chapter 33 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Note: I actually owe this chapter to NarcissisticRiceBall, for sparking an idea from her story "Scent of the Battlefield." (And I REALLY am sorry it took so long, NRB, I swear!)
The other inspiration for this chapter was the appeal of having Nasami's, um, 'less than pleasant' personality characteristics brought to the fore. As admirable a person as Kirara is (and I can say that), I also know Nasami well enough to know what she would think of her after the Battle for Kanna. And even I was surprised at how the chapter turned out... but when you think about it, it really does make sense. There were few things that Nasami despised more than hypocrisy - pride, deception, cowardice, and dishonor all in one.
The music for this chapter is the absolutely fantastic instrumental "Prelude" by the band Slaughter (which I first heard in the DBZ movie "The History of Trunks," and if your breath doesn't just catch when you listen to it, you have a heart of stone). I spent ages looking for the CD, and when I finally found it, I just sat in my living room with all the lights off, lying on the floor, staring into the darkness while I listened to it over and over.
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THE SWORD OF THE SOUL
© October 16th, 2005 By Michelle N Travis
Chapter Thirty-Three: Never Forget What You Are
Kirara stood in the doorway of Rikichi's small house, watching as Gozaku carefully bandaged Rikichi's broken ribs.
"Will he be all right?" she asked anxiously as Rikichi winced while Gozaku tightened another length of bandage around his chest.
"Once he's had some rest. Of course, it's going to hurt until they've healed up, but thankfully nothing life-threatening." Gozaku looked out past Kirara at the fallen rain and the wreckage of Kanna.
"Besides, there are others who are much worse off."
Kirara also looked behind her. "That's war for you, Gozaku. Repeated time and again in an endless cycle, as the warriors rise up to fight, are either victorious or vanquished, and then it all begins again."
Then the figure of Katsushiro caught her eye, kneeling beside Gorobei. The entertainer's body had been carefully carried from the battlefield by Shichiroji and Kikuchiyo earlier, placed out of the rain under the awning of one of the few surviving houses. The young samurai's shoulders were heaving as he wept for Gorobei, the first samurai to fall in their battle against the Nobuseri. Kikuchiyo, Shichiroji, Nasami, Heihachi, and Kyuzo were also standing nearby, paying their own quiet respects to their fallen comrade.
Kirara turned her back on the scene. "It seems that Katsushiro is still haunted by the notion of death. He must learn to overcome that, or he'll never truly become samurai."
“How dare you!”
Kirara whirled around at the sound of Nasami's voice, and immediately backed away. The samuraiko was angrier than Kirara had ever seen, her eyes blazing with an almost palpable fury, her face pale with rage. She flicked the blood from her katana in the ancient chiburi tradition, and then slammed the katana back into its saya with a loud ringing sound. But then she strode forward and grabbed Kirara by the throat.
The water priestess got out a single shocked gasp as Nasami's fingers closed.
The samuraiko didn't even pause, but began dragging Kirara backward past the shocked villagers, even as Kirara struggled to get her feet back under her. Kirara fought to get free, nearly choking in the samuraiko's grip, but Nasami ignored her thrashings and kept walking until she reached the muddy stretch where most of the killing had been done.
The other samurai turned, and their eyes widened at the sight of Nasami holding Kirara by the throat. "Nasami-dono, what are you-" Heihachi began, but a single look from the samuraiko froze him in his tracks, and his question died away.
And then she threw Kirara to the ground, and the priestess landed on her hands and knees in the mud and the rain. Gasping for air, Kirara turned to get to her feet, but then froze.
Nasami was again holding her unsheathed katana in her hand, long white hair streaming with rain, her armor covered in blood and filth and grime.
The samuraiko pointed the katana at Kirara, her voice icy, her eyes hard, and her sword unwavering. “You are in no position to judge him, or any of the samurai. You, who cowers behind the samurai you hired to save your village, who condemns a man for doing his duty, who criticizes the scent of war when you pay others to get their hands dirty for you, you… have… no… right!”
"How dare you!" Kirara cried, trying once again to get to her feet, but with the speed of a striking snake, Nasami slapped the water priestess full across the face. Katsushiro gasped and moved forward, his hand going to his sword.
"Don't, Katsushiro," Nasami hissed, seeing him step into the edge of her vision, and the young samurai stopped. "Don't even think of drawing that sword unless you intend to use it. And if you draw it on me, you had damned well better be prepared to die for it."
Katsushiro's hand fell to his side, and he bowed his head as he stepped back. While he hated to admit it, he knew there was absolutely no way he could ever hope to defeat the samuraiko in combat, not even to defend Kirara.
"Get this through your head, Kirara," Nasami said in a low and dangerous voice, staring down the length of the blade at the girl. "Priestess you might be, and your devotion to the water spirits honorable, but never forget that underneath it all, you are still a peasant."
She reached out abruptly, took Kirara by the shoulder in a rough grasp, forced her to turn around once again, and shouted, “LOOK!”
All around her, peasants were gathered in small groups, desperately trying to treat the wounded, gathering the casualties, and staring at the remains of their homes and their village. Many held swords or bows still, others had taken the Nobuseri's weapons to use against them. Women and children were sobbing around them for those who had not survived the bandits' assault. All of them were covered in mud, several of them bleeding.
The bodies of Mimizuku were strewn all over the field, as were many of the Yakan machine operators, and more than a few of the mechanical Raiden and Benigumo.
The whole village reeked of death.
Slowly, tears began to slide down Kirara's cheeks, and she started to shake.
"How could you possibly think for one moment that you could survive the pain of being the friend of a samurai? Offering to clean away the blood that covers Katsushiro's hands, how sweet, how very sweet." Nasami laughed, a harsh sound that made Kirara flinch. "You blind little hypocrite. The very thing you despise about Katsushiro is the very thing you embrace about Kambei."
Kirara's tears fell faster, creating pale tracks in the mud on her cheeks.
Nasami continued her tirade, ignoring the priestess' tears. “You are always faulting Katsushiro for his reactions to death, but here you kneel, in the same filth, the same mud, and just like him, you freeze in horror at what you've done.”
Kirara glanced up at Nasami in dismay.
“Yes, little priestess, look at what you have brought upon your village. Not the samurai. You.”
Kirara shook her head, but she could not make herself look away. Nor could she speak.
The samuraiko heard her mute denial, but Nasami was nowhere near done yet. “Yes, you. You volunteered to find samurai to defend Kanna Village. You went to Kougakyo looking for samurai. You offered them rice, hired them to kill the Nobuseri for you, led them here to Kanna, all because you were too cowardly to fight for your village, your rice, and your lives.”
Nasami gestured with her sword hand, pointing to the village around them. “Oh, of course, how could we forget your great and noble sacrifice? Risking yourself for the safety of your village by offering yourself to the Nobuseri?” Then she knelt behind Kirara and hissed in her ear, “When you knew perfectly well that the samurai were hiding in the rice, just waiting to save you. How brave, how very courageous.”
She let Kirara go, but the girl made no effort to stand. She could not have risen if her life had depended on it, so stunned and shattered was she.
"Since the moment each of us agreed to help you, we samurai have killed for you time and again. And this is how you repay us, with criticism and contempt. The other farmers have trained, sweated, slaved, bled, and some have even died defending this village and this rice of yours, but do you criticize them? No, of course not. A farm girl, without even your skills and status, dared to dream that she might become more, and was willing to risk blood on her own hands for what she believed in, but do you condemn her? No. In fact, apart from bringing us here, you have not done one damned thing."
Nasami crouched down in front of Kirara and forcibly took one of her wrists in her hand. Kirara winced at the muck and blood that covered her small hands. “And yet, look. As hard as you tried to keep it from happening, your hands are now just as dirty as ours. The blood of the bandits is as much on your hands as it is on Katsushiro's… on Kambei's... on mine… or on any of us.”
Nasami rose to her feet once again and gestured once more to the village around them. "The scent of the battlefield, the scent of the battlefield, that's all you talk about - the one quality you sought from your hired samurai. Well, here it is - breathe it in. Let it fill your lungs until you think you're going to choke on it. Let it settle onto your skin until you think you'll never be clean again. Let it contaminate your very soul until your spirit is ready to collapse under the weight of the fallen."
Kirara gave a ragged cry and covered her ears, shutting her eyes tight. But the samuraiko was relentless, and yanked her hands away. "You can cover your eyes to the truth, but you cannot stop it from being spoken."
For a long time, the only sounds were the falling rain and Kirara's weeping. Then Nasami pushed the priestess away, who fell forward into the mud. Kirara just lay there and sobbed as Nasami rose to her feet, sheathed her katana once more, and walked away.
"Don't you think you were a little hard on her?" Shichiroji asked Nasami later as the samuraiko cleaned and sharpened her swords.
"No," she said at last, not turning around. "Which would be the greater crime? Hurting her by showing her the reality of war? Or letting her go on in her ignorance?"
"You might have been a little kinder about it, though."
"Show me where I can find kindness in war, Shichiroji-san, and I'll consider it."
"You know the old proverb, Nasami-dono - 'To condemn the innocent, you must first condemn yourself.'"
"I could also remind you that 'to hide the truth is more than folly - it is fatal.'"
Shichiroji frowned at her. "This isn't like you... at least not as I've come to know you."
The samuraiko's hands stilled, but she still did not turn.
"She isn't samurai, Nasami. How can you hold her to the same standards as yourself?"
Nasami turned to him at last, her katana in her hand, and gestured toward the door with it. "Then go comfort her," she shot back, her voice growing louder with each word, "or better yet, send Katsushiro... let him reassure her that being a lying, cowardly hypocrite is all right, because she's just a peasant. Ease her distress by reminding her that life as a water priestess makes her exempt from the stench of death." She turned her back on Shichiroji and continued to sharpen the blade.
The blond samurai leaned back and studied her. "You really do hate that, don't you?" he said at last. "The idea of living with one's head in the sand, hoping that problems will go away if you just don't think about them?"
"I despise it."
"It's funny, you sound a lot like Heihachi."
"You mean his problems with betrayal and treachery," she mused. "Yes... I suppose that I do."
"So what happened to the woman who gave her last rations of rice to a starving child?"Shichiroji asked her without stopping to think about his words.
Nasami carefully drew a soft cloth down the length of the blade and sheathed it with an audible click. Then she looked over her shoulder at him, her dark blue eyes as cold as ice. "There is a time and place for compassion, but there is also one for honesty - no matter how terrible, no matter how true. And I would much rather be known for being honest than compassionate."
Shichiroji barely restrained a shiver at the look in her eyes. In that instant, he knew that those were not Nasami's eyes. Those were the eyes of Sasuraitsuru.
"You forgave Manzo," Shichiroji reminded her softly, but Nasami shook her head.
"I understand him, Shichiroji... I never said that I forgave him."
That night, after the rain had finally ceased, the six samurai walked along the path through Kanna, moving solemnly toward a small hill that overlooked the village and the surrounding rice paddies. Kyuzo, Heihachi, Katsushiro, and Shichiroji were carrying the litter that held Gorobei's body, while Nasami and Kikuchiyo walked with lit lanterns, her leading the procession, and him following it.
The farmers of Kanna had wanted to come along, but Heihachi and Shichiroji had quietly discouraged them.
"But great samurai, we want to show our respect as well!" Rikichi had protested, but the blond samurai shook his head.
"None of us here doubt that you and the others want to honor Gorobei's loss, Rikichi, but only samurai can truly understand what death means for another samurai. You'll have your chance, I promise."
Once they reached the top, Kikuchiyo and Nasami placed their lanterns on the ground, and picked up the shovels that they had brought up earlier in the day. Without a word, the two started to dig while the others watched in silence. When the hole was large enough, Kikuchiyo climbed out, then helped Nasami get to her feet as well, and the other four lowered Gorobei's body into the grave.
For a moment, nobody spoke. Then one by one, each of them leaned forward and placed some token of respect in the grave.
Kyuzo placed a Mimizuku sword, Katsushiro an arrow, Heihachi a ball of rice, Shichiroji the map of Kanna Village, and Kikuchiyo a farmer's sickle. Nasami, however, hesitated before placing her offering, and swallowed hard.
"'Death is as sure for that which is born, as birth is for that which is dead'," she quoted, her voice barely louder than a whisper, and all of the samurai bowed their heads. "'Therefore grieve not for what is... inevitable.'" With those words, she leaned down and placed a single flawless origami crane on Gorobei's folded hands.
"Clear skies and fair winds to you, Gorobei-san," Shichiroji said at last. Then he and the others filled in the grave.
"He deserved a pyre," Heihachi said sadly. "Something bright and alive and dangerous and beautiful all at once would have suited him better, I think."
But when they were done, Kyuzo frowned.
"We need a marker."
"I brought his banner," Katsushiro said quietly, but Nasami glanced over at it and shook her head.
"'Life for sale'? No... his death was not that of a common ronin or sell-sword mercenary. He deserves better than that."
Without another word, Kikuchiyo pulled the remnant of his sword from its usual sheath across his back and drove it into the grave. Even broken in half, it was several feet long, and Nasami smiled in spite of herself.
Shichiroji then handed each of the samurai a stick of incense, which they lit from the lanterns Nasami and Kikuchiyo had carried, and one by one, placed them on the grave.
Katsushiro's voice trembled slightly as he spoke first. "He was an honorable warrior."
"In love with life," Nasami murmured.
Kyuzo's voice was softer than usual. "A worthy opponent."
Heihachi smiled ruefully. "A free spirit."
"And a good friend," Shichiroji added.
"He was a showoff, stubborn as a mule, and more than a little bit crazy," Kikuchiyo said firmly, and everyone turned to look at him. "But he was a true samurai, damn it."
He looked around at the others, paused as though about to say something, then turned and stalked off into the darkness.
Kikuchiyo didn't get far, however, before he heard someone calling after him. "Kikuchiyo-san, wait!"
The big machine samurai stopped and turned to see Nasami following him. "What's up?"
"What's wrong? You left in such a hurry, and angry at that."
Kikuchiyo threw his hands up in the air. "It's just that... that jerk Kambei just up and left, and he didn't even stick around to say a prayer or light incense or anything! He's supposed to be our leader, and this great samurai and all, and then he's out of here and leaving us behind like we were children who'd just get in his way." He turned and started walking again. "And it didn't help that he just left you here. You deserve better than that. You deserve better than him."
"He didn't just leave me here, Kikuchiyo," she said softly, falling into step beside him. "I knew he was leaving, and I let him go."
"You still deserve better..." Kikuchiyo muttered. Then he stopped and turned to Nasami, forcing her to stop abruptly or walk straight into him.
"Why didn't you just tell him that you love him?" he asked her point-blank, and the samuraiko went ashen.
"How did you...?"
"I'm not that stupid, Nasami. Kambei would never have left you behind if he'd known the truth, but since he's gone, that means you didn't tell him. And why someone like you, who's never had a problem speaking her mind, wouldn't have told him something like that makes no sense."
Nasami bowed her head. "I couldn't," she said softly.
"Why not? He was there, you were there, you could have just said it!"
"It wouldn't have mattered!" she cried suddenly. "You know just as well as I do that even if I had told him, he wouldn't have accepted it! Because... I am samurai." This time her voice was even fainter. "And so is he."
"Then you're both idiots - him for leaving, and you for letting him. He had someone like you, and the bastard goes off on his own. And you just let him leave! You could have argued, gone along with him, kept the old goat out of trouble!"
"We still have a responsibility to Kanna," she reminded him, her voice low and slightly angry. "The village is not yet secure, the farmers not yet freed. If the Nobuseri return, we must be prepared."
"He had that responsibility, too," Kikuchiyo said bitterly. "Didn't stop him from leaving. And now he's going to get himself killed, and for what?"
"He will not die."
Nasami and Kikuchiyo both whirled around to find Kyuzo standing on the path behind him.
"Kyuzo-sama..." Nasami said, startled.
"I need to speak with you. Alone." Kyuzo brushed past both of them, clearly expecting Nasami to follow.
She glanced at Kikuchiyo through narrowed eyes. "We'll finish this later." Then she turned and walked after the fair-haired assassin.
After a few minutes of walking in silence, she looked over at him. "Well?"
"I need to know where the Capital is."
"But if I tell you, you'll go after Kambei with the intent of killing him."
Kyuzo said nothing, but Nasami remembered all too well the first, last, and only time they had spoken of the matter.
"Would you spare his life, out of respect for another samurai?"
"I will fight him because he is samurai."
"Not out of respect for him... but for me."
"Nasami-dono... I am sorry..."
"As am I."
"I will fight him because he is samurai."
"Not out of respect for him... but for me."
"Nasami-dono... I am sorry..."
"As am I."
"No, Kyuzo-sama... I can't."
Then she gasped as he grasped her by both shoulders and shoved her back against a tree, leaning in so close to her that she could feel his breath on her cheek. Try as she might, she could not look away from him as he pierced her with his gaze.
"He may very well die, and not by my hand. Which death would you prefer for him?"
"Are you so certain that he'll die?"
"I won't take that chance."
"What makes you think that I would tell you, if I didn't tell Kambei?" she whispered, and he leaned even closer. And in a single fleeting moment, Nasami saw a spark of something flare in Kyuzo's eyes... then fade... then die. His voice was low and absolutely matter-of-fact.
"You don't love me."
Nasami's heart stopped, until all she could do was stare, her eyes dark and silver and shadowed in the moonlight.
For what felt like for an eternity, the two stood there in the shadow of the trees, and at last, Nasami closed her eyes, her words coming fast.
"Head east for four days, keeping the forest to your right. When you reach Mizen Mura, turn due north for another day and a half."
Her eyes still closed, she felt Kyuzo release her. "Kyuzo!" she called.
Nasami heard his footsteps stop, and though she did not hear him turn around, she sensed that he was looking at her.
"Promise me one thing."
"What is it?"
"No matter how far you must travel or how long you must search, if Kambei dies by your sword, you will find me again..."
Her voice dropped.
"... and you will fight me."
When Nasami opened her eyes again, Kyuzo was gone.
To be continued...